The Israelis, stung by their defeat at the hands of Hezbollah, are aching for a rematch. There have been a number of border incidents since the IDF retreated and the blockade was lifted, the most recent and most brazen occurring when the Israelis crossed a security fence, purportedly to search for explosives planted by Hezbollah. They could and did use this pretext to launch an invasion, and, in the process, level half the country. The Israelis are merely waiting for the right moment, and that moment, I’m afraid, will come fairly soon unless they’re reined in by Washington.
This last is highly unlikely, however: indeed, the dynamics run the other way. Last time around, the neocons in the administration reportedly egged the somewhat reluctant Israelis on, and were sorely disappointed when Tel Aviv relented. Next time, they’ll go all the way to Beirut and won’t stop until the Americans get to Tehran.
Those who fear war with Iran had best look to Lebanon, where the first shots are being fired. It is, so far, a proxy war, with the Israelis as our stand-ins and Hezbollah allied with the Iranians. It is only a matter of time, however, before the proxies are dispensed with, and the Americans meet the Iranians on the battlefield.
This is what the American “surge” in Iraq is all about: the White House is preparing for a confrontation with the Iranians. Washington knows full well that, in answer to U.S. airstrikes, Tehran will target U.S. troops caught in the middle of Iraq’s civil war. The President has authorized U.S. troops to go after the Iranians supposedly infiltrating Iraq, and the storming of that Iranian consulate in Irbil was not just a random incident. The timing of the crackdown on Shi’ite party militias is also no accident or does it just so happen that Iran’s staunchest Iraqi allies are being suddenly disarmed?
The big problem for the Bush administration, however, is that these militias are the military components of the ruling coalition, a government installed by American force of arms, and so far defended by U.S. troops. Having defeated Saddam Hussein, destroyed Ba’athist-Sunni hegemony, and ushered in the new era of Shi’ite dominance, the Americans are now turning on a dime and demanding the disarmament of their own monstrous creation. Could there be a clearer demonstration of the libertarian complaint that government exists to “solve” problems largely generated by its policies?
Lebanon is a ticking time bomb, and it will go off shortly after the Israelis, and their Washington handlers, light the fuse. Increased Israeli overflights are bound to provoke a Lebanese response, and, remember, all this takes place against the backdrop of considerable political turmoil. The Lebanese people are in rebellion against a government that ordered its “army” to stand down as Israeli jets pounded Beirut and bombed Lebanese “army” barracks. The only use the government has for its soldiers is for killing anti-government demonstrators.
When push came to shove it was Hezbollah that fought and beat the IDF. This amazing feat has impressed many Lebanese Christians, formerly Hezbollah’s deadly enemies. What is disturbing to the Israelis is that this has spawned a cross-confessional alliance of Lebanese Christian nationalists and Shi’ite Muslims.
The appearance of Michel Aoun and Hassan Nasrallah on the same stage, rallying the people against the U.S.-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is a veritable replay of the famous Cedar Revolution, when a mass movement from below ousted the pro-Syrian government. Given that the Cedar revolutionaries had as one of their major goals the return of Aoun from exile in France, the Christian leader’s alliance with the main Shi’ite party augurs a seismic shift in the balance of power. This was made possible by the recent Israeli aggression, which has forged a new nationalist consensus.
There is only one way Israel can defeat this rising obstacle to their agenda of smashing up and neutralizing its Muslim neighbors, and that is militarily: their Lebanese proxies are too weak to do anything other than protest halfheartedly as the nation rallies around a Hezbollah-Christian alliance. However, it isn’t only Lebanese politics driving the Israelis to once again unleash the IDF, but also the political situation in the United States.
Remember how easily both parties in Congress rushed to endorse Israel’s cruel bombardment? The Israel lobby has no reason to expect anything but a repeat of this shameless complicity. You’ll also recall that the “antiwar” liberals of the Huffington Post crowd had practically zero to say about the deaths of thousands of Lebanese, and the rape of a nation. After all, their favorite Democrats in congress voted to endorse the merciless Israeli attack. Hillary Clinton hailed the bombardment of Beirut airport as a valiant act of “self-defense” on Israel’s part. Nancy Pelosi, one of AIPAC’s best friends in Congress, followed suit.
In short, American political support for another go at Lebanon is virtually assured: aside from a few on the left, and the right, who are beginning to challenge the Lobby’s hegemony over U.S. foreign policy, there will be very few voices raised against renewed Israeli aggression. Our supine Congress which Pat Buchanan trenchantly called “Israeli-occupied territory” will shout hosannas as U.S.-made -and-paid-for jets drop cluster bombs on schools, hospitals, factories, and other nests of “terrorism.” Arianna Huffington will ignore it for weeks, and then rationalize it: the Bush administration will rush more military aid and subsidies to the Israeli war machine, and both wings of the War Party the Democrats, no less than the Republicans will cheerlead the action.
Israel’s probing the Lebanese frontier is a deliberate provocation, one that will end, if all goes according to plan, in U.S. military action against Iran. Opposing the war in Iraq, now that it’s clearly a disaster, is oddly enough beside the point. The present danger is the regionalization of the war, which is the real objective of the “surge” and the clock is ticking. That’s why the partisan bickering over how the debate over the anti-surge resolution should proceed in Congress is so dangerous aside from the sad fact that these wise solons don’t even realize what they’re voting on. They think they’re debating the escalation of the war in Iraq, when what’s really going on is an attempt by this administration to extend the war to neighboring countries.
Crippled by their unwillingness to criticize Israel, antiwar Democrats will be sucked into supporting the opening shots of the coming U.S. attack on Iran. The rumblings in Lebanon are the premonitory tremors of a regional earthquake that will shake most of the nations of the Middle East. George W. Bush is far from finished with the long-suffering peoples of the Middle East. The great tragedy is that political resistance to the administration’s war moves are too little, too late.